TYLER, Texas (KETK) – Representatives from multiple East Texas school districts came together Wednesday morning to speak against a possible school voucher program, and its impact on East Texas.

During their press conference, Tyler ISD Board President Wade Washmon said they are just looking for answers, but currently only have a list of questions about the program.

“Shouldn’t policy be more than good sounding bullet points?” Washmon said. “We have nothing against choice, but we do have something against an unbalanced, unmeasured and unlevel playing field.”

Gov. Greg Abbott is fully backing school choice this year, and will be in Tyler on Thursday to attend a parent empowerment night at Grace Community School.

Washmon said the school voucher program is a “Trojan horse” that has been presented to parents as a way to easily access educational opportunities and tax dollars.

“Sounds good,” Washmon said. “And it sounds about like something a politician looking for favor would promise, doesn’t it? The first thing it will pull out is more money spent on education.”

Arp Superintendent Shannon Arrington said that a large population of people would be impacted by a voucher policy.

“Public schools are held to a high standard of accountability by the State of Texas,” Arrington said. “We, as public educators, accept that responsibility. Public schools use public funds to meet those standards. Our question for our state government is, will private schools be held to the same standards, and should they be able to benefit from vouchers? The answer to that question would affect our students, teachers, and entire public school communities.”

Lindale ISD Superintendent, Stan Surratt, said that vouchers have never been a solution.

“Vouchers have been a bad idea and policy for decades,” Surratt said. “Vouchers were first introduced during desegregation in the 1960s. Vouchers are certainly not a conservative principle. To give taxpayer funds without any accountability is a horrible idea and will be damaging to many children across Texas. This idea of vouchers has been passed in other states, usually, about 70-80% of vouchers went to students and families that were already in private schools. So, this is what I consider to be ‘welfare for the rich,’ and Texans should not be paying for wealthy families to attend private schools. Vouchers are simply a bad idea for Texas.”

Bullard ISD Superintendent Jack Lee said that taking funding from public schools to support vouchers and education savings accounts will only create challenges for public education.

  • Smith County school officials gather to discuss school voucher program.

“These public school funds work to educate all students, and providing them to private schools that can choose the students they accept for enrollment is not best for kids,” Lee said. “‘Choice’ is the word that is being used, but the reality is that vouchers and education savings accounts are only a choice for the wealthy to send their children to private schools at taxpayers’ expense. The constitutional and beautiful role of public schools is to accept all students for the young people they are, and we have outstanding teachers who teach them the skills they need to be successful in life. If you want things to be about ‘choice,’ let’s choose to appropriately fund public schools so that teachers are paid what they deserve, and all students can flourish.”

Representatives from the following school districts gathered to speak on school choice and the voucher program:

  • Arp
  • Bullard
  • Brownsboro
  • Chapel Hill
  • Lindale
  • Troup
  • Tyler
  • Whitehouse
  • Winona

Chapel Hill Superintendent Lamond Dean said investing in public schools will help students from all walks of life.

“Public education is a cornerstone of our democracy and a fundamental right for all children, regardless of their background or circumstances,” Dean said. “We believe every child deserves access to high-quality education, and that can be achieved with a strong investment into the Texas Public School System.”

Earlier this week, a Chapel Hill ISD board member spoke with KETK news about their concerns and said she wishes Abbott would visit public schools following his announcement of making school choice a priority this legislative session.

“They talk about school choice but the problem is when they talk about choice, they’re not defining that,” Tammy Humes, Chapel Hill ISD board member and parent said. “Talk about where that funding would come from. Talk about the benefits, but also talk about the downside because there is going to be a downside because money doesn’t grow on trees.”

According to Robert Enlow, President and CEO of non-profit EdChoice, school choice and the school voucher program would allow parents to take money the government collects for education and lets them choose what educational setting best works for them.

“The taxpayer dollars that the state collects for education and allows the parent to put it on an online platform that is managed by the Department of Education or the department of revenue or some other government agency that allows them to go and customize their child’s education,” Enlow said.

However, many East Texas school districts have gathered to share their concerns regarding the program, and Humes said, some parents are concerned these programs would take money away from public schools.

Humes said she “would just like Gov. Abbott to sit down with public school officials and explain to us what his concept of school choice is, so that we can explain it to parents” and hopes to get answers when Abbott comes to Tyler.